telesm, 2017
Drawing Installation (Ink on wall, paper and fabric)
Pictoplasma festival, 10-14 May 2017 at KulturKapelen, Berlin, Germany.

This drawing installation by Pooya Abbasian (born in Iran, 1983), both pervaded by mysticism and topicality, is inspired by ancient Persian talismans (telesm). Fascinated by the modernity of those drawings, Pooya Abbasian revisits them as the roots of his own practice of contemporary drawing and character design. The works exhibited today are the result of a research on plastic features of telesm. They question the artist’s origins, his status as well as the symbolic and contemporary representations of such sacred objects.
Superstition. Our cultures and religions are full of it. Superstition, through various rituals and beliefs, is a way to respond to the need for protection of the faithful. In Islam, telesm had power against the influence of demons and other supernatural beings called jinn. They were objects or simple drawings embellished with Koranic inscriptions, symbols and images, but also astrologic signs: a mix between Islamic faith and a long pagan tradition. Most importantly, and regardless of their origins, telesm are a remedy against existential anxiety and fear of unexpected events.

With this installation, Pooya Abbasian tackles a universal topic in a very personal way. His use of Chinese ink, avoiding any elaborate flourish, echoes existential metaphysical questions that superstition has always been trying to answer artificially yet efficiently. In this religious and mystical context, it’s impossible not to mention the conspiracy theories which are currently thriving on the internet. While doing research on talismans, one can quickly come across websites spreading nebulous rumors involving indifferently Illuminati, Jews, Muslims, “Freemacons” or Jesuits, all guilty of a falsified order of things. Humans need to point their finger at other people who are held responsible for phenomena they cannot understand. A need to justify at any cost. Pooya Abbasian’s telesm, acting as avatars of superstitious beliefs or pagan prayers, are a reflection of an uncertain and hateful context.
Alterity is at the center of this installation. The series of portraits echoes the fragile destinies of the imaginary victims or beneficiaries of these modern talismans. Their features result from the spontaneous inspiration and gestures of the artist. We are both observers and observed, feeling the individuality of each of these portraits. They stare insistently, inhabited by a kind of oriental nostalgia. A wink to the evil eye? A reflection on the status of the artist too.

For several years, Pooya Abbasian has been using photography, among other media, to study the gaze and its limits.  The theme of voyeurism has fed a long-term research that is somehow continued through this installation. He questions his relation to the muse, his submission to the artistic intention and revives the classical debate on the position of the artist, challenger of God, the original Creator. The talisman embodies this ambiguity: its magical properties come directly from his maker, who draws a link between the secular world and the sacred sphere. Religious men were also among the very few who were able to read and write, what used to be considered as a sort of magical power. Inspired by these objects, he pays a paradoxical tribute to his origins. He celebrates his artistic and cultural heritage while putting into perspective their sacred features, suggesting he has doubts on the liberating nature of religions – as shows the cynical tranquility of this huge undulating cat.

Clementine Proby


aklil(al)molook (2009), Exopalasht (2007)
Pooya Abbasian & Farshid Monfared
Dec 2009, Mohsen gallery, Tehran, Iran. Oct 2007, Azad gallery, Tehran, Iran.

It seems that the history of Iranian painting Negargary has stemmed from three sources. The first could be conceived as the semiotic system of Iranian mysticism, which, through providing a common symbolic order between the artist and his contemporaneous audience, made the golden skies, the silver rivers, and the halos, palpable and familiar. The second was the governmental system which, by funding the artists, made room for such works to be executed – a traditional government, whose ideological and political influence, of course, could not be ignored. The third rendered a composition consisting of the social context on which the artist was grounded and the impacts of other nations on the art of that particular era. In times Chinese, in other times Byzantine or Turfan paintings each lent some of their visual elements to Iranian painting so as to be translated by Iranian painter according to his particular social context. By centuries, the audience of Iranian painting was always familiar with this triple source while knowing how to mentally reach to the subtext of the work. However, the transformation within Qajarid era – especially, the influx of modernity – severed the close ties of audience with previously accepted sources. Houses, costume, communication devices, and many other aspects of everyday life became increasingly subjected to change. If employing new visual elements seemed unaccustomed at the end of Safavid era, this time, at the eve of the new century, what appeared even stranger was the very aspiration for the survival of the language of Iranian painting. Thus, a new generation of painting emerged, carrying a false name, ‘miniature’. It attempted to retain something of the tradition while persisting to attract the contemporary audience. The golden skies, the silver rivers, the flaming trees, and the colourful birds, all became void of meaning, as a result of the disrupted link with the first source. The elements of the Ideal world as a lamé with its golden wraps pillaged were reduced to a beautiful icon replete with the nonsense. Parallel to this, the other two sources continued their tasks in a new way: The dignity of the Ideal Beauteous became a site for manifestation of mastery in plastic surgery. The eyes grew larger as the noses tended upwards. The Sormeh (Collyrium) which seemed an eternal phenomenon was replaced by a heavy make-up that could be removed at night with a cotton pad. However, curling garments and deer were still there. The result is a semiotic, and of course visual, disorder originating from the third source, which could be seen both ironically and wistfully.

Ali Ettehad

Drawing on plate, Vitrail ink on plate, Diameter 30 cm, 2010

Exhibition view at Mohsen gallery.

It can be said that recently works of many Iranian artists are distinctive cliché. Most of them are applying traditional and national Oriental (Iranian-Islamic) patterns as a tool to attract foreign audiences. As a matter of fact some of these works quench overseas viewers thirst toward exotic are More over Exotic works are also applicable to their hypothesis about oriental artists works. As a result Western audiences pay special attention to exoticism. The theorem is neither ignoring all these achievements nor finding these artists guilty for using these symbols in their work.
The works in this exhibition are trying to criticize superficial and abusive use of these traditional patterns and national symbols and turning them to meaning-less cliché.

Hamid Severi

Installation of 140 A4 paper(ink on paper), 280×300 cm, 2017.

Sound performance at the opening of the exhibition at Azad galley.